18 cyclists have died on New Zealand roads this year, more than three times last year. And the Herald is asking people for close call stories. Here’s my top three.
Freddy Mercury in a Jap Import
I’m cycling home on Great North Rd, just past Spaghetti Western, at rush hour. It’s not gridlock: four lanes are moving fast. Honk! A close-by horn startles me. A dude in a small Japanese sports car overtakes me, flips me the bird, then stops in a queue at the lights as I pass him and leave him behind.
Couple hundred metres later, same thing happens. Honk! Dude’s got an attitude problem. Then it happens again. Honk! This time, he overtakes me and stops on the broken yellow line leading up to the lights at Avondale race track. His car door opens, and he gets out. I think: what the fuck?
I see him stand apart from his car, legs spread, holding his door wiiide open like a man-machine gate, blocking the entire lane as he looks back towards me, fast approaching and leading the oncoming traffic. Behind him, the lights turn green. Surrounded by cars swerving to miss him, and me, I take to the inside lane and – for the last time – I truly leave him far, far behind.
In the midst of the chaos, I manage to catch a glimpse. He’s partly ripped, partly flab, in tight denim shorts and a wife beater T. He’s got aviator sunnies, terrible skin and a Freddy Mercury ‘tache. He’s retreating back into his stinking metallic shell, fag in mouth and foul thoughts in mind. Whatever he’s on, I really don’t want it.
Look to the left
So many of these. This one’s on Hillsborough Road: a winding, undulating affair overlooking the Manukau. Again, plenty of traffic. I’m casually zooming downhill when a young woman in an old hatchback makes a left turn, at the very same moment that she’s trying to pass me. In other words, she’s attempting to turn through me, like I’m simply not there.
I lock up my back brake. I yell: “Oi!” Nothing happens. It’s a well sealed road, but – non cyclists may be surprised – there’s just enough fine gravel around the gutter to prevent me stopping, and keep me skidding. “Oi!” I repeat. She’s calm as a cucumber, but I know she’s seen me. For a thousand microseconds it’s just me and her, wheels in lockstep, heading for oblivion as my space between her car and the curb gets smaller, smaller, sma-
I consider smashing my fist against her window but this is no time for histrionics: death is upon us. I just make the turn into the same road she’s aiming for, bring my bike to a stop, and watch her drive off into the distance, before remounting and going back to my oh-so-pleasant commute. She was a young Asian woman with steel rim glasses, a crucifix round her neck and rusted barbed wire coursing through her veins. At least Freddy was clear about his intentions; but this calmly grinning bitch is the ice queen.
Kids on trams
Riding to work past Western Springs Park, I find no room for cyclists between the cars and the plastic road works barriers, so I hop onto the footpath. Up ahead, I see a crown of hi-vis guys on the footpath, so I cut across a metre of grass and get onto the concrete tram line. I have to adjust my speed to allow for the odd pedestrian here and there, but on the whole it feels good.
Coming towards me, a young school girl rides a bike, with one hand on the handle bars, the other holding the hand of her brother. Brother is on a skateboard, and she’s towing him. The pair of them have just enough control at the speed of a casual stroll to stay between the inset grooves of the tramlines: nothing more. They’re everywhere, and they’re coming straight at me.
I smile. I chirp “keep left!” as cheerfully as I can. “keep le-” I manage to traverse the steel tracks, at a dangerously acute angle. Now I’m wobbling on a few inches of concrete on the outside of the track. My front wheel drops off the hard ledge. It’s only about two inches down into the grass, but it’s enough to catch me off balance. the front wheel goes perpendicular to its trajectory, and the bike and I land in a painful, splattered heap on the concrete.
The road workers are a top flight crew. They’re friendly and sympathetic. One of them promptly produces a first aid kit, and uses fresh saline caps and clean wipes to wash my fresh, pebbled grazes before competently dressing them. Months and months later, long after I’ve reported the incident to Auckland Transport, someone whose job it is to ring me up, does so. He tells me he was a cyclist himself, once. But no more, since an accident with a car caused him to break his back.
The only single thing these incidents have in common, besides me, is that they would all have been prevented by a separated cycle lane. I suppose we could also say, well, if Freddy, and the Ice Queen, and the kids on the tram track had their basic shit together, then that might also have made my day a little safer, too. But we forgive them, for – being human – they know now what they do. And, after we’ve forgiven them, we separate ourselves from them, with a nice and aesthetically pleasing strip of concrete blocks, demarking a safe and functional cycle lane.
The idea that someone is occupying the cycle lane currently under construction in the remote hamlet of Grey Lynn, on the basis that it could have been consulted better, is a travesty on the long, proud and progressive history of the very word “occupy”.
Update: WordPress formatting has gone to shit.